Culture Trips

Roe v Wade: an anti-abortion film of staggering ineptitude | Film

Nick Loeb and Cathy Allyn believe you’ve been lied to about the landmark supreme court case Roe v Wade – a decision that protected a woman’s right to choose. In a controversial new movie named after the trial, the co-directors want to explain how decision was rigged; how a Jewish doctor (Loeb is of Jewish descent himself) leveraged abortion into a money making scheme; how the abortion rights advocate Lawrence Lader (Jamie Kennedy) concocted a plan to puppeteer two inexperienced female lawyers to prey on a supposedly desperate bumpkin in Norma McCorvey (Summer Joy Campbell) – the Roe in Roe v Wade – to weaponize her to an unsuspecting court system. And they want to spew this deeply biased anti-abortion malarkey as inartfully as possible.

The script’s rote dialogue, which calls feminism destructive, is as formless as a bot’s writing. The cast’s tacky performances, especially Loeb, are without merit. The invocation of Mother Teresa and Susan B Anthony as anti-abortion advocates is a desperate cry emanating from a narrative strawman. Inarticulate editing, cheap patriotic tableaux, repetitive flat compositions, ineffectual camera zooms and mawkish grandiose speeches that ring as hollow as the film-makers’ promise to tell the truth makes Loeb and Allyn’s sexist courtroom biopic, Roe v Wade, impressive insofar that anyone wanted their name attached to it.

In fact, during filming, finding people who wanted to participate was a real hurdle. Per the Daily Beast: Loeb and Allyn were initially producers on the film, but assumed directing duties once the film’s director and first assistant director dropped out. In a 2018 Hollywood Reporter piece, Loeb explained how the crew’s electrician told him “fuck you,” threw her headset on the ground and quit the project. The costumer left, too. Regarding shooting at Louisiana State University, “we were told we were rejected due to our content, even though it will be a PG-rated film. They refused to put it in writing, but they told us on the phone it was due to content,” Loeb further explained to the Hollywood Reporter. Tulane also refused to accommodate the crew, as did a New Orleans synagogue. The latter was not informed of the film’s subject matter before allowing film-makers to use the location as a space for extras. During their Washington DC location shoot at the Lincoln Memorial, a crew member accosted a Daily Beast reporter: they deprived the journalist of their notebook, then ripped out the pages and threw the crumpled paper to the ground. In a film where the protagonist claims they want to tell the whole truth, the incongruity is impossible to overlook.

The film chronicles Dr Bernard Nathanson (Loeb), the narrator of the 1984 anti-abortion film The Silent Scream, from his first brush with abortion in 1949 – when his girlfriend at the time terminated her pregnancy – to his anti-abortion stance in 1985. Between those two disparate bookends, Nathanson ingratiates himself into the pro-choice movement. The head of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Lader, coaxes him to support abortions by dangling the prospects of big money over the young doctor’s head. Nathanson becomes an enthusiastic participant, and in one macabre scene gleefully sings, “There’s a fortune/In abortion/You never bother/The real father.” Scintillating stuff.

It is a personal subject for Loeb – he’s been privy to two abortions in his life. He is also now locked in a protracted court battle with his ex-fiancee Sofía Vergara. “In 2017, Vergara filed legal documents in California hoping to block Loeb from being able to use, without her written consent, the frozen pre-embryos they created via IVF at the ART Reproductive Center in Beverly Hills while still together in 2013,” reported People.

Despite Loeb and Allyn presenting their film as a truth-telling vehicle, the courtroom drama falls in line with a bevvy of far-right talking points: Hollywood controlling the media, fake news by way of Nathanson and Lader purportedly making up pro-choice statistics, and abortion doctors as sadistic Hippocratic Oath breakers. Audiences are meant to take these charges at face value, of course. Moreover, through dopey narration, Nathanson paints a picture of the pro-choice movement being run exclusively by men like Lader. The women who are involved – Betty Friedan (Lucy Davenport), the Roe v Wade lawyers Sarah Weddington (Greer Grammer) and Linda Coffee (Justine Wachsberger) and the aforementioned Roe – are merely unintelligent pawns duped by these supposedly nefarious forces. These pro-choicers judicially battle with anti-abortion advocates Mildred Jefferson (Stacey Dash sporting an unintelligible accent) and a walking-talking BuzzFeed inspirational quotes listicle in lawyer Robert Byrn (Joey Lawrence). His dialogue consists of him obtusely quoting Gandhi, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, etc.

Roe v Wade
Photograph: YouTube

The two sides work their way to a supreme court run by conservative Justice Warren Burger (Jon Voight). Loeb and Allyn claim two justices held conflicts of interest, and others either bent to media pressure or scrutiny from their family and friends in the 1973, 7-2 decision in favor of Roe. While the film features a few Hollywood luminaries, specifically those of the conservative establishment like Voight, there is also space for rightwing pundits Tomi Lahren and Milo Yiannopoulos. The latter makes a showing as Dr David Sopher, a physician who demonstrates to Nathanson a new efficient method to perform abortions, while Lahren is featured in a slight role as the daughter of Justice Blackmun (Corbin Bernsen).

In 2018, Loeb and Allyn blasted a Daily Beast report concerning the film featuring graphic images of dismembered fetuses. Upon viewing, the prior reporting has proved to be true. One scene finds Chicago police raiding an illegal abortion clinic housed in a hotel only to carry out buckets full of dead fetuses. Another sees Nathanson performing an abortion on his own spouse wherein a shot shows a tiny baby torn into five pieces lying on a surgical tray. It’s one of the many ways Loeb and Allyn are without nuance and tact. Others show the Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, addressing young Ku Klux Klan members while a cross burns behind her. Another sees an infuriated Nathanson in an empty church delivering an emotionally inert soliloquy decrying God for allowing abortions to happen. After all of the controversies and production setbacks, Loeb and Allyn made the film they wanted. The irony for them is they have to live with it.

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